- Check the weather. For some strange reason folks often forget to check the weather before heading out camping. You want to make sure you are taking clothes and gear that will be useful for whatever the weather is likely to be during your stay so be sure to take a look at the forecast before leaving home. It is also a good idea to check the forecast to get an idea of whether you will want to attach the fly to your tent to keep the moisture out before you turn in for the evening.
- Footwear is important. Many times folks will go camping and take nothing more than a pair of flip flops with them, which might not be a good idea. Flip flops are fine if all you are going to do is hangout at the campsite. However, if you want to go for a hike or go out in the river then flip flops aren’t the ticket. A sturdy pair of hiking shoes/boots and a pair of river shoes have saved many a camping trip so be sure you are taking proper footwear with you.
- Wood also is important. It is illegal to gather firewood at the State Parks and the wood they have for sale can be pretty pricey. Private campgrounds often, but not always, have firewood available in the form of branches laying on the ground (at the larger campgrounds) or they might have wood for sale at their office. Be sure to ask about the availability of firewood before you hit the road or you could find yourself sitting in the dark eating cold food out of a can because you can’t start a fire.
- Think about where to put the tent. It is important to stay off of rocks, cactus, ant beds and inclines if possible. If you have to pitch your tent where there is an incline be sure to go to sleep with your feet lower than your head. Another nifty trick is to keep the zippers to the doors closed to keep out the bugs. If you need ventilation unzip the zippers where there is mesh screening. Always remember to NOT leave food in a tent because it will attract all kinds of critters. Don’t forget to position your tent so it will be in the morning shade or else you will wake up very early to a bright sunny morning an hour or two before you want to start moving around.
- Make sure you can see at night. Lanterns and flashlights are still the most popular light sources for camping, but you should consider purchasing a caving lantern that you could wear on your head. They will provide a lot of light while still allowing you full use of your hands. It is a good idea to buy one that has a red light option so you can avoid blinding your camp buddies when you turn in their direction to talk to them. Another option is to wear the light around your neck so that it points down to the ground directly in front of where you are standing or walking.
- Consider making a reservation. Making an early reservation is especially important if you are going to a private campground because many of them will let you reserve a specific campsite in advance of your arrival. Reservations at State Parks are not as important because while you can reserve a space, you cannot reserve the campsite of your choice. Those are available on a first come, first served basis. However, there will be many times when State Parks are completely full so it is always a good idea to make a reservation and get there as early as you can to snag a choice location.
- Secure your food. It is never a good idea to leave food out on the table when you are camping. At the very least you increase the likelihood that ants will come by for a visit. During the day, it is not uncommon for birds and squirrels to steal a snack if you leave the campsite unattended and the food is left out on the table. At night, it can get really interesting when raccoons, skunks and opossums come out to forage for food. Always keep the food in plastic tubs secured with a bungee cord, or stored in your vehicle. As a corollary, before turning in for the night it is much better to drive the trash to a garbage container or tie it to a limb so that it hangs several feet above the ground to keep it out of reach of the wildlife. These food prep and disposal tips should save you from a lot of headaches.
- Check the burn ban situation. One of the best parts about camping is cooking over an open flame, making smores or just hanging out by the campfire at night. There are still several counties under a burn ban so be sure to check with the campground you are considering visiting to ask whether campfires are allowed. It just isn’t the same when your only option at night is to sit in a circle around a lantern that is hanging from a limb.
- Know where the drinking water is located. Potable water will be available at all State Parks, but it will not necessarily be available at your individual campsite. Make sure to check in with the park office beforehand and ask where the nearest water is located to where you want to camp. At private campgrounds there often will be no water close to where you will be camping. Be sure to ask about the water situation before you head out because you might need to take some five gallon jugs with you or fill up a water cooler to take to the campground.
- Most important of all. Double check to make sure the campfire is completely out before you go to sleep and before you leave the campsite unattended. You do not want to be the next one to start a major forest fire and burn down your favorite campground. That’s just D-U-M-B stupid.
Here is a list of items you might want to consider taking with you the next time you go camping. For some, it will be way too much and for others there will be several things missing from the list.